Oh, Pope.  I do not know how to read you.  I don’t know how to make sense of you.  Alas.  I may just be playing devil’s advocate here against the general air of Oh-Pope-has-been-so-unfairly-labeled-as-a-jerk-but-really-he-was-the-most-moral-genius-just-a-bit-cynical-is-all (which I’m sure is all very true) that I have been presented so far, but let me just posit that I don’t know how to read Pope because I don’t know what he thinks of his readers. 

Who are the satires, the vituperation – no matter how hilarious – meant for?  What kind of reader does Pope care about?

In Peri Bathous I’m looking specifically at the following declaration:

‘Tis a fruitless 

[Page 11 ] 

Undertaking to write for Men of a nice and foppish Gusto , whom, after all, it is almost impossible to please; and ’tis still more Chimerical to write for Posterity , of whose Taste we cannot make any Judgment, and whose Applause we can never enjoy. It must be confess’d, our wiser Authors have a present End, 

Et prodesse volunt, & delectare Poetæ. 

Their true Design is Profit or Gain ; in order to acquire which, ’tis necessary to procure Applause, by administring Pleasure to the Reader: From whence it follows demonstrably, that their Productions must be suited to the present Taste ; and I cannot but congratulate our Age on this peculiar Felicity, that tho’ we have made indeed great Progress in all other Branches of Luxury, we are not yet debauch’d with any high relish in Poetry, but are in this one Taste, less nice than our Ancestors. If an Art is to be estimated by its Success, I appeal to Experience, whether there have not been, in proportion to their Number, as many starving good Poets, as bad ones?

Knowing full well that Peri Bathous is a satire, ridiculing contemporary poets and the everything-for-sale ethos of contemporaneous Britain, I know, obviously, that this paragraph is dripping with sarcasm; Pope is not actually “congratulating” his Age for the high premium being placed on giving the reader Pleasure, or for having a culture of poetry that’s resisting “high relish.”  But I don’t understand why Pleasure is being presented as something to be scoffed at.  I don’t know how the rest of you read, but “pleasure” in reading is very important to me; I would stop, otherwise. 

Considering the fact that nearly every critical piece we’ve read on Pope describes him as a highly moral man – an Achilles in a world of Hectors – I can only assume that Pope wants his readers to be as invested in issues of morality – right and wrong, corrupt society—as he.  But if readers went along with authors just out of political allegiances, rather than actual enjoyment of the authors’ artistic or literary merits, there would be many more impactful authors than actually exist. 

Now, this may just come down to a question of the definition of pleasure.  I prefer black coffee to the saccharine, caramel-coated frappuccino.  My pleasure in reading comes as much from bitter realizations and mind-screwing challenges as it does from gorgeous language and vivid imagery.  If there are authors who can provide all of those, I will provide the Applause, and maybe even pay some money. 

Yours sincerely,



3 thoughts on “pleasure

  1. I agree, Pope is really hard to make sense of. I wrote earlier on Old Man Jenkins’ blog that I wasn’t sure how I would have reacted to some of the poetry Pope satirizes. Some of it is clearly awful, but some of it I think I would have enjoyed if Pope hadn’t told me how bad it was by including it. I think there are a couple of reasons why it is hard to make sense of Pope. First, he’s convinced he’s right, most people are wrong, and the people who disagree with him just don’t get it. That’s a tough position to analyze, because if you find yourself disagreeing you’re stuck in the “just don’t get it” camp. So I spend all my time trying to figure out if I missed the joke. Secondly, his ego is out of control, which is funny because he loves to assume his own moral superiority. That makes it hard to distinguish the thoughts that spring from his incredible genius, which I’d like to retain, and those that spring from his incredible pride, which I can do without.

  2. I think your words are quite astute:
    To his own audience, Pope’s a brute!
    I can’t imagine any chap
    Refined enough to suit Pope’s map
    (Since clearly to be fit to Read
    One must resemble Pope indeed).
    The issue that I find in Pope?
    He never makes himself the joke!
    His satire’s always facing OUT
    It’s only “THEY” who act the lout,
    It’s never, ever Pope the “I”
    On whom his cutting eye does spy.
    This practice gives a guy no sense
    Of humour, just one of Petulance.
    That said, I like Pope well enough,
    But it is high time we call his bluff.
    As to your search for writers who
    Tie your brain in knots for you,
    And spare nor pretty phrase, nor pun,
    You’re seeking, darling, Doctor Donne.

  3. I think the issue of pleasure is a really important one in Pope–especially in that nutty phrase, “administering pleasure to the reader” (like electro-shock therapy, or flouride in the water). As you say, if he completely disowned pleasure,he wouldn’t write in the showy, pleasurable way he does. We have to take into account not only readerly pleasure here, but also writerly pleasure–what pleasure do Pope and the Scriblerians get out of their creations?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s